There are two definitions for line editor. Early computer programs used a program with this name that evaluated the lines and caught mistakes. Typically, however, the term refers to a copy editor who very specifically reads a text line by line.
Being a line editor is just one of the many jobs editors can hold. This type of editing requires word for word reading of a text, and a very good sense of proper grammar and usage. He or she may make comments or actual changes to the text to improve readability and change any grammatical mistakes or spelling errors.
The line editor is more frequently called a copy editor, since directly reading and editing copy is the most important function. As well as examining a text for any grammatical mistakes and cleaning up poor wording, the editor must also evaluate the text for consistency. For example, he or she might evaluate the dates in a text to be certain that all are consistent. The line editor might also research and check the facts in a document to be certain that all facts are accurate.
Long manuscripts can be somewhat laborious for a line editor, yet exceptionally important to edit. Most avid readers are familiar with the classic Alexandre Dumas mistake in The Three Musketeers where he actually makes D’Artagnan a musketeer on two separate occasions. A line editor would of course check the work for mistakes. Many newer translations of Dumas’ work fix the dates and make D’Artagnan a musketeer only once.
A line editor may also look for inconsistencies of characterizations in long manuscripts or short stories. If a character seems to be acting inconsistently with former statements, the editor will query the author. On the author’s advice, he or she will then make appropriate changes.
A good and rather fun example of this form of query is in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, which is a fictional translation of a fictional work by a fictional author. In italics, Goldman captures his editor’s reaction to huge inconsistencies in the work. The editor nearly throws in the towel after being unable to reconcile the problems. For editors of all kinds, this inventive dialogue is a lovely example of the problems editors encounter.
A line editor may be employed in many different ways. Newspapers and magazines frequently hire these editors, as do publishing companies. Many work independently of a company as a freelancer. Depending on experience and the people for whom the editor works, these positions can be lucrative, or financially unrewarding.